RADICAL CHANGE

You know that feeling of hopelessness that eats at you when you are stuck in a rut? The one that fills you with claustrophobia-like dread and makes you want to change your whole life around because “things can’t go on like this anymore”? Yeah, that feeling sucks. It seems to emerge from deep within, calling for radical change and hey, I guess rightfully so because maybe you do need to change. Maybe you are not living to your full potential. So today I propose to you a radical change, and no, it’s not getting a haircut or buying a motorcycle. 

It’s bodybuilding.  

Now, before you let all the dogs loose on me, let me just get some things straight here. When I say bodybuilding I don’t necessarily mean competitive bodybuilding, nor do I mean injecting or ingesting drugs or eating a bunch of junk supplements. No. What I mean by bodybuilding is incorporating weight-training, consistency, and proper nutrition into your lifestyle for positive change and growth in all aspects of your life. Cool? Cool.

Ok, so — bodybuilding. Is it radical? Yeah, because chances are you aren’t doing it, so it’s gonna be totally new and unfamiliar to you. Is it change? Yes, because in a few months you will actually feel and see the changes. Radical change - it checks out. 

But out of all things, why bodybuilding? This is a good question. I mean, you definitely could get a motorcycle or join a club that interests you or pack up and go live in another city - all of those things are better than doing nothing, but none of them are as effective as bodybuilding when it comes to permanently getting you out of that rut that you’ve been sitting in. Let me explain. 

Getting a haircut or getting on a plane are one-time events. You do it, you feel like things are finally different because you land in another city with your new haircut… but that’s where the changes end. You flew across the country but you are still stuck in the very same rut. Why? Well, maybe because you come home and you turn on the TV just like before. You pop yesterday’s Chinese take-out into the microwave and have a smoke while it’s heating up. You might have changed your looks and your location, but your lifestyle and habits have remained the same. 

If you decide to take the plunge and commit yourself to bodybuilding, you will have to change your lifestyle and your habits. After all, I didn’t just pull the word “bodybuilding” out of a hat. The reason why bodybuilding is such a good teacher of success is because it requires you to develop certain character traits that will improve your whole life. Weight-training will require you to become conscious of what food you eat. It will require you to reconnect with your body. You will have to face and overcome challenges. See, this is radical change. This is what you need. Few other activities call on you to change your diet, time management, and daily choices, while improving your looks, confidence and habits quite as effectively as bodybuilding.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits: 

Increase in confidence

In the context of bodybuilding we tend to associate the increase in confidence with better looks, but while better looks are a great byproduct of training, it is nothing compared to the increase in confidence that will come as you keep busting through your personal limits. It’s not really the muscle that makes you feel good about yourself. It’s that split-second decison-making that happens as you command your hands to steer the car to the gym instead of the pizza place. It’s not the cut abs that make you feel confident in yourself but the fact that your cut abs are a testament to your will-power and consistency. Your body is just the mirror of your choices, and when your body looks better than 80% of the bodies around you, you know that you have been making some good choices and taking control of your life. And from control grows confidence.

Things you thought impossible are now within reach

I have just now returned home from a workout, and I finally have the energy and the drive to finish this article that I had put on hold because I felt like it was bad. Now after the workout it doesn’t seem so bad, in fact it looks pretty good. Endorphins or not, but at least I am moving forward. What more to ask for? If exercising can help me be more productive and more likely to finish my work, then I am interested.

In fact there have been studies done that confirm the link between regular exercise and success, better performance, and even bigger income. Binging on TV show episodes doesn’t have that effect last time I checked.

Improved mental and physical performance

I put mental first because I think it is the more important, but also the more overlooked when training is considered. Can bicep curls really make you more connected to your thoughts? Yep, you just feel faster, sharper, fresher. You have clarity and energy. In simple terms - your brain works better. Back in college my screenwriting teacher recommended that we go take a walk when stuck on a story. Not only would going outside expose us to new stimuli, but we’d also be moving our legs and thus supplying our brains with oxygen, boosting our mental power. Oh, and this is interesting: my friend John once noticed after working out that music appeared much slower than usual. I thought he was wrong until I tried it. That increased blood flow and adrenaline turn your brain’s processing power up. Now that's pretty damn cool.

Fearlessness 

I am very good friends with Mr. Fear. In analyzing my actions and behavior I have found that most of my limitations that stop me from living my best life can be traced back to the ugly twisted root that is fear. Creativity, relationships, self-expression, happiness — they can all suffer and shrivel up in the presence of fear. What exercise does is put you in immediate contact with fear. Adding those 5kgs to the bench press might not sound like a big deal, but when you are ready to take the bar off the rack you confront your fears head on. Will you be able to finish the set? Are you strong enough? When you overcome those very linear challenges in the gym, you learn to trust in your ability to get stronger, and that certainty spreads into all other aspects of your life.

Less anxiety

Wow, if you struggle with anxiety then exercise is your most potent drug. In fact, I recommitted myself to my exercise routine because my body and my mind were completely out of whack. With anxiety levels peaking high, and my body so used to an immobile lifestyle that getting up from a chair quickly resulted in palpitations and heavy heartbeats (at 24 years old, mind you), I realized that something needed to change. Just one month into the routine all of those issues were gone, and I no longer had any of the symptoms that used to bother me not only physically, but also cripple me mentally.

Higher authority and power

When you come to a job interview and you are well built, your posture is straight, and you radiate confidence, people are much more likely to take you seriously. In fact, having a built body is something that confirms those little things that you usually bullshit on your resume. Words like “dedicated,” “committed,” “know how to deal with challenges” are often just fancy filler that you use because it can’t be disproven at the time of the interview. But they are not filler when you are well built because your body becomes living proof that you are in fact all of those things. In addition, looking good and speaking with confidence, give you the super-power of authority. People will be more likely to listen to what you have to say if you look like a man of accomplishment, rather than a muffintop hanging off the sides of the chair. 

Increased overall vitality

All of the above effects combine and blend into a cocktail of benefits that boost your overall vitality. You become a more free, more radiant human being, ready to take on new challenges and to push yourself for that extra rep not only in the gym but also in life. 

Of course it would be one-sided to say that these benefits are unique to bodybuilding. Most sports will improve your life. However, most of them will not boost your physique as effectively as bodybuilding, and looking good is, despite sounding vane, an important aspect of this. Your body is the vessel of your life. Seeing it improve makes you believe that the rest of your life can too.

So there you have it. Radical change. I'd like to hear your thought on the matter.

If you do decide to embark on this journey, there are some very important things to consider. Let’s talk about them in the next post. Stay tuned.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY DOES NOT TOLERATE HESITATION

For us street photographers there are those special days when shooting feels effortless, when we take risks as if our balls are titanium, and when we have no problem shoving our cameras in people’s faces. Those are what I call Bruce days. You feel like Bruce Willis and you shoot like Bruce Gilden. But these kind of days are short and rare. For all we know, after lunch that confidence we were enjoying may wane and hesitation may take its place. And hesitation is bad — no, fatal to street photography.

If you have some experience as a street photographer, the following scenario might sound all too familiar: The subject looks intimidating, and you hesitate. He’s gonna hear my shutter go and he’s gonna confront me. But this is a great shot, I should get it. Well, by this point you should have already got it. But because you were hesitating and lingering your subject spotted you on his radar and is now looking suspiciously right at you and that camera hanging from your neck, and… yep, no shot. Time to walk away, awkwardly. 

In street photography hesitation is the direct opposite of the decisive moment

A good example I can offer to better illustrate my point is this: imagine you are trying to catch a train and as you approach the platform you hear the signal announcing the train’s prompt departure. If at that very instant you book it (decisive moment) shoving everyone out of the way, you are probably going to make it. If you begin to sorta-kinda power-walk your way through the crowd while calculating if you’re going to be better off just waiting for the next train (hesitation) — don’t even bother.

So if you see a potential picture and you want it then you’ve got to step in and get it. Or forget it. 

If hesitation has ruined many shots for you and you are finally determined to kick its ass but don’t quite know quite where to start, here’s a tip:

When I was a kid my father once said to me as I was about to jump off a high diving board: “The longer you stand on the edge looking down, the scarier it gets”. Your job isn’t to analyze the potential significance of the photograph-yet-to-be-made or the ethics of the situation, nor is it to dread how uncomfortable you’re going to feel if the subject yells at you. As a street photographer, your job — your only job — is to expose frames without hesitation.

More on this later. Stay tuned.

HOW MUSIC GOT FREE - BOOK REVIEW

How Music Got Free
The Inventor, the Mogul, and the Thief

Stephen Witt

London: Vintage Books, 2016
306 pages
9780099590071
Music/Business/Culture

PYLL MGZN Rating:


The premise of Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free didn’t take long to convince me - the book promised a thrilling adventure into the belly of the beast that is the music industry, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. But first I had to check something - the publication date. Technology and entertainment develop so quickly that a book from 2009, for instance, would be borderline irrelevant (for the sake of perspective, Spotify was only making it’s first baby steps back then). After flipping to the title page and confirming that the book was indeed recent (2015), I snapped it shut, paid a couple of bucks at the till, tucked it under my arm, and off I went. 

I don’t really know what happened to my 45 minute metro ride home - it seems to have disappeared from my memory. The book pulled me right in. It was the way the author introduced the characters. They came alive off the pages. Their quirks, their determination, their way of speaking, their family lives - Stephen Witt’s precise and revealing language effectively highlighted the telling details. Ask any Hollywood screenwriter and they’ll tell you how important this is. But this book is not a Hollywood screenplay. It's about real people in real life making real decisions, and that's what forms the foundation of the book’s thrill.

While How Music Got Free is going to be of particular interest to those who want to know more about music, or more precisely, the music industry, even if you fall in neither of these categories then I still say that this book is worth your consideration. You probably listened to music earlier today. You might even be listening to it now, your music player conveniently hidden behind the current window. Aren’t you curious to find out just what kind of history hides behind that .mp3 file extension? Do you know who invented that format? Ever heard of the mp2?

If the technology behind the revolutionary audio format doesn't fire you up, then let me reassure you - this book is about so much more than just that. It's about innovative thinking, perseverance, risk, business, politics, law, culture, trends, crime, dissonance between generations, technology, competition, economics, stardom, and strategy. We get to sit in Doug Morris’ office at Universal Music Group. We get to negotiate contract terms with the industry’s key players. We get to rub shoulders with some chart-toppers. And all this is before we even leave the skyscrapers to go underground through the complex internet networks to discover the expansive and secret world of piracy run by masterminds as powerful as any other. With them we get to rip some pirated music from CDs and then log into an invitation-only chat to brag to other elite leakers hiding behind cryptic acronyms. You will quickly discover reading this book, that the invention of the mp3 format is just the starting point for a much bigger story - the story of how music escaped from the jewel case and got into your earbuds. 

If all this is beginning to sound too much like a trailer for a blockbuster, and you are beginning to doubt the authenticity of the book, then flip to the back - you will be glad to read the several pages of notes from the author explaining his research process and sources. I personally found it to be very reassuring. The notes are a cherry on top because Stephen Witt maintains perfect journalistic distance from the story and avoids making judgements or contributing personal opinions that could distort the facts. Meanwhile his style and rhythm make this book feel like a high stakes poker game. The bright cover does not imply that in any way, but its rubbery feel confirms otherwise - this is the kind of book that grips. 

The paperback version of this book as reviewed here has a 10 page addendum complete with some insider information that the author received from an early pirate after the hardback version of the book had already gone to print. This additional information throws even more light into the deep shadows of the music leaking scene and allows us to meet one of the leakers as he is today - grown up and distanced enough from his past to be able to judge it with fresh eyes. It is this particular individual who provides a definitive closure to the debate about the future of the mp3.

To wrap this up: if you want to better understand the wild animal that is the music industry then this book is a must-read. It is a sobering look at the business, and if you still maintain any illusions about it, this book will sweep them away. You’ll never hear a hit song on the radio the same way. 

A brilliant, relevant, tense read. PYLL MGZN highly recommends. 

TWEAKING THE MIND CIRCUITRY FOR MAXIMUM WEEKEND OUTPUT

Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

You know those weekends that go by in a blink of an eye and leave you wondering how come you didn't accomplish much despite having so many things you wanted to do? Yeah. Me too. So today I'll share with you some tricks that I have been using lately to boost my weekend productivity. 

But why would anyone want to be productive on their weekend, you ask? Well, for those of us who are working freelancers or CEOs of passion projects, weekends are a great time to get things done. We have big chunks of time at our disposal, we have mental clarity, and we can focus. Mix that with a little bit of ambition and you have an explosive mix ready to blow. All you gotta do is supply the spark. But it’s not always easy.

Too often we fall prey to procrastination, we get stuck in the world wide web, or are overcome with feelings of uncertainty about our projects and postpone working on them until better days. But there are some things we can do to avoid falling into these traps. Here is a list of some easy-to-implement but powerful tips on how to nudge your chances for success up and have an awesome productive weekend that brings you closer to your dreams.

How you get up makes a difference. 

It’s oh so tempting to go on Facebook or Instagram in the morning and see what the world is up to. And I am not going to say don’t do it. It’s the weekend after all. But I do say, don’t stay on it too long. 15 minutes max. The longer you stay the more time and mental clarity you are cutting from your day. It’s great to see content made by others, but won’t it be great to make something of value yourself? To do that you need to get out of bed.

Feel like a million bucks. 

Shower.

Put on a nice set of clothes - something that you would actually wear to work or to go out with friends. This tricks your mind into going into awake and productive mode, makes you feel clean and ready. I’ve found that if I stay in my home clothes all day then I am more likely to procrastinate. Weird, right? So throw on a fresh T and a pair of jeans. Weekend casual works great. Round it off with some nice shoes if you want to go all in. 

Get your hair in order too. Basically, make yourself look the way you wouldn’t be ashamed of if all of a sudden all your friends and competitors (and a really hot representative of the opposite sex) walked into your room unannounced. Perhaps sitting in front of the computer screen in your underwear with your belly covered in Cheetos crumbs isn’t the best impression. If you are working alone, what you look like might not seem like a big deal, but if you are sitting in front of the computer screen in your underwear with your belly covered in Cheetos crumbs then guess what - you feel like someone who’s sitting in front of the computer screen in their underwear with their belly covered in Cheetos crumbs, and that is not a good way to feel if your goal is to be productive and accomplish some serious shit. 

If you have to make decisions, or take phone calls, or be quick and upbeat, then the above scenario isn’t optimal. You don’t have to wear anything fancy, but if you feel like a million bucks you think like a million bucks and you act like a million bucks and you project a completely different vibe than someone with orange fingers and a peeking butt crack. 

Have breakfast. 

Having breakfast is a great way to set a separation marker between sleepy/lazy/morning time and the next, more productive section of the day. Nourish your body with quality ingredients, keep the portions small. What I like to do after I am done eating is prepare a nice beverage and sit back for 15 minutes with a pen and a piece of paper and make a list of the things that I need to get done that day. I find that taking some time to write things out and get them onto paper helps me streamline my thoughts and free my mind from having to remember all the little details. Best investment of 15 minutes. Trust me.  

If you haven't already, brush your teeth.

You’ve had a nice meal, now brush your teeth. Give them a nice cleaning. Nothing puts us into lazy mode quicker than that funky taste in our mouth. Seriously. What having a dirty mouth does is decrease our confidence and self-respect. But with clean teeth (and in clean clothes) we are more ready to take on the day - we are more likely to pick up the phone when it rings, we speak with more confidence, our breath and our minds are fresh. This is perhaps one of the best things you can do to energize your day.

Make work feel like a good time.

That nice beverage you made earlier - why not take it to your desk/workbench/whatever you use? Make yourself some iced tea or coffee if that’s your thing. Get a little square of your favorite chocolate. Enjoy life! These kinds of little things go a long way.

Hydrate.

Set a timer on your watch of phone to go off every 15 minutes. Put a big bottle of water next to you. Every 15 minutes drink out of that bottle. Hydrate your body and your brain for maximum health and productivity. This is so important, especially if you are sitting for hours. I’ve noticed that drinking large amounts of water 3-4 times a day does not do the job even if you consume your daily recommended amount. The body seems to be thrown off by the large quantities of water taken in all at once and it holds onto it. But when you drink every 15 minutes you go to the bathroom much more often - the body doesn’t feel like water is scarce and it lets it cycle and flush out all the bad stuff. But why do you need a timer? You will be surprised how easy it is to forget to hydrate regularly. When we work we are in the zone and water isn’t on our minds. The simple timer technique is extremely effective and it does not ruin the flow. Try it. 

Clean your workspace. 

We’ve heard this tip 5 billion times. It’s a good one, but I like to take it down a notch. Clean it a little bit, and quickly. Cleaning can easily kickstart procrastination. Clean your main space just a bit - do it kind of nonchalantly, then forget about it. A little mess is inevitable so don’t get too preoccupied with it. Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. If in the middle of your work session it begins to bother you, just say: “Yeah, looks like the space of someone who’s doing some work and kicking some ass!” Then go back to kicking ass.

Take care of small things quickly.

Don’t push those back. Professionals deal with things right away. (But don’t confuse urgent things with important things.) Someone sent you an email about a project? We are often tempted to read it and close it. “I’ll respond later”. Professionals deal with these things right away and get them out of their mental space. 

Save this list.

Save this list to have a quick step-by-step reference on how to boost your weekend. This is useful for those days when you seem to be stuck in that “uh, I can’t seem to be able to do anything today” phase. Go through these simple motions and voila. Profit. These strategies can be implemented at any time of day.

A BULLETPROOF CREATIVITY SYSTEM

I have a friend who’s an artist, and he produces incredible amounts of work. He has new work to show me every time I visit him. After spending some time in his studio, I have come to understand that there is a link between his impressive output and the way in which he shapes his environment to encourage productivity and creativity. 

It’s actually quite simple. What my friend understands very well is that in order to make a lot of art you have to

MAKE ART EASY TO MAKE

His studio might seem like a mess at first, but it’s not. It’s a creative incubator. There isn’t a surface in there that is devoid of his artistic touch. Everything is covered in sketches, old and new, finished and abandoned. All tables have tools scattered upon them. Drills, paints, markers, rulers, chisels… everything he might need in the moment of creative drive. And they aren’t hidden away in pretty boxes and tucked away. No no, they are exposed, connected, and ready to go. One could, without the risk of sounding cliche, state that my friend’s room is the extension of his creative mind. It is a medium through which he connects his ideas to reality. 

It becomes clear upon this observation then, that in order to make art easy to make we need to establish some sort of portal through which the ideas in our head can materialize in the physical realm. That means that we need to surround ourselves with the materials through which we “speak”, and we need to make sure that those materials are as easily accessible as possible.

For example, anybody whose guitar sits on a couch is more likely to be a good guitarist than the guy whose guitar is in a case behind a door. When that guitar is on your couch, you put it in your lap when watching YouTube and before you know it you’ve come up with a fun bass riff. Your fingers are running up and down the neck. You are practicing. All because of a simple tweak in the way you arrange your space.

With some forethought we can insert practice into our daily routines without even making too much extra effort. Say you are trying to learn how to design cool bass sounds. Why not put a small battery powered synth on your kitchen table that turns on with a flip of a switch? I guarantee you that when making sounds is that easy you’ll be playing with that synth every morning while drinking your breakfast beverage of choice. I also guarantee that you will be late for work because of the darn thing on more than one occasion, but the upside is that you’ll have bass lines running through your head while you’re running through the metro. In just a couple of minutes you got your creative wheels turning. And that’s pretty awesome.

I found in my creative process, that if I keep all my equipment always plugged in and ready to go I am 90% (!) more likely to sit down at the computer and make some music. If everything is routed and all I have to do is hit the record button, then it’s easy. If the tools are out of reach, or if I have to find and plug in some cables, oftentimes laziness wins and I create nothing, or I work with the tools that are available at the moment. It sounds stupid (like, just plug it in for god’s sake!), but we are all lazy and if we can design a system that helps us bypass our laziness then we should definitely do so. 

KEEP YOUR TOOLS SIMPLE

Nothing is more frustrating than having a great idea and not being able to make it come alive just because the tools that were meant to help you do so get in your way instead. It’s your fault for not knowing your tools, but it might also be because you’ve chosen unnecessarily complicated tools. They need not be. In fact, the simplest tools are usually the most effective. The iPhone is the most popular camera because it makes photography much more likely to happen on a whim than a bulky DSLR that is always left at home. 

When the tools are simple and readily available, it’s hard to resist the creative impulse. For instance, whenever somebody visits my above-mentioned friend’s studio they inevitably leave behind a sketch or a scribble, because if they sit down at the table to knock back a couple of beers they have paper and markers sitting in front of them begging for doodles. If there is no paper there is a receipt or a pizza box or something. Everybody leaves a mark. It’s really cool.

But there is more to a well-designed environment than just a boost in productivity and experimentation. It also provides

INSPIRATION ON DEMAND

Back at my friend’s studio, if we examine the works scattered all over his tables more closely, we will notice an interesting detail - there is a lot of history there. If we move some sketches around and dig past the surface we will discover the artist’s earlier works that provide a thrilling journey into his creative past. There’s everything there, from drunken two-minute scribbles all the way to elaborate and extremely detailed pieces worthy of being displayed had the artist decided so. They are all various historical reference points showing where the artist has been, what he has learned, how he is improving, and what the larger body of his work is becoming. It is a portrait of his tendencies, style, creative instincts and thoughts — very interesting for us to look at, but invaluable for the artist himself. It’s his roadmap that tells him exactly where he is and where he needs to go next.

And going forward is no longer a mystery, because it is hard to be stuck for ideas when so many of them have been transferred from the abstract space of your memory to the concrete space on shreds of paper. It’s kind of like a cork board that lets you shuffle things around and build connections between concepts without having to rely on the poorly organized mess in your head. You might be just stretching after sitting down for a while when you notice that that figure over there that you drew a month ago could actually be incorporated into your current piece. Or perhaps that color there would be perfect for the logo that you are working on. 

As a bonus, when so many of your ideas are already started on those pieces of paper strewn around the room, suddenly you might find that they are easier to continue. You might pick up a sketch off the floor and develop it into a full project. Who knows, it might become your best one yet.

ARTISTIC CONFIDENCE AND ARTIST IDENTITY

In addition to the benefits listed above, having a large chunk of your work visible, while not always convenient, is very beneficial. It helps to prevent the feeling of insecurity that plagues many amateur creators. This insecurity comes when we feel like we aren’t real artists, or that our work isn’t very good, or that perhaps we aren’t doing enough. But when a large chuck of your work is before your eyes, you no longer feel like you are faking it. You are steeped in your art and you indeed begin to feel like a true artist. When you see the progress you’ve made, you get this pleasant confidence that makes you feel good about your art, and makes you be braver about your art, makes you more likely to experiment with your art, and that is, obviously, extremely important. 

Next time you're feeling down, get a bunch of old projects together and lay them out on the floor and let them sit there for a week. It might just get you unstuck. Meanwhile

GET EXCITED ABOUT MAKING ART

One way to do this is to surround yourself by work made by others that you absolutely love. In the case of my artist friend, he surrounds himself with creations made by his peers as well as the artists he looks up to. From colorful folk art he’d brought from abroad to the music that fills the room with a steady beat - his space is full of interesting things that will make anyone who lives for expression want to create something big. This is like an energy drink for creativity. And it also helps the artist see the larger picture and to see how he and his work fit into it. It’s a great way to get excited about making art and to jump start the creative cycle.

SHAPE THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATCH IT SHAPE YOU

It is worth mentioning that just like we can shape our environment, our environment in turn has an important influence on what kind of work we make. Compare my friend’s studio to my environment at the time, and you will see just how different my creative output was as a result.

Being on a constant move, I didn’t have a space of my own. My tools would often be in cases or somewhere in one of the many bags, so even when I did have creative urges they’d often be dulled down or altogether suppressed by the extra steps that setting up the tools would require. But as an artist I needed my creative outlet, so very soon I too figured out how to use my environment to support my work. 

If you look back at that period of my life you will see a dramatic drop in studio photography and a huge spike in street photography and writing. I only realized in retrospect that that could be explained by the fact that I didn’t have a comfortable space to call my own, so I took the camera to the streets. It’s like my environment pushed me outside. So I’d wander the streets taking photos of strangers, or I’d take my notebook to a coffee shop and write for hours.

Our environment shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to art making. It will largely determine what kind of things we make and how we make them.

LET YOUR ARTISTIC SPACE BREATHE

There’s one very important thing to remember: when you design your space, don’t try to copy, even in the slightest, the spaces of others. No need. You should try to find what works for you on your own. This will result in the most effective creative environment for you.

In fact, don’t limit yourself to one environment or overthink this whole environment thing in general. You might need different environments for different mediums that you work in. When I write for example, I create better in isolation, without distractions except for maybe a good cup of tea. I like to have my notebook next to me from which I transfer my ideas into the computer. I like to have a clean desk, so that nothing pulls me out of my thought process. But sometimes it’s nice to go to another room and work there. Or play some music. When you are in an unfamiliar space you might get random ideas and make random connections between objects, concepts, etc. 

Also don’t think that your environment needs to be set in stone. In fact you should let it breathe and change shapes, and morph just like you would let your artistic vision do. Art making is never still and the environment should reflect that. Let it live and evolve naturally. And, most importantly, know that

CREATIVITY HAS NO PREREQUISITES

Having a well-designed space is great for increasing productivity, but when it comes to art it is equally as important to be spontaneous. Sometimes you have to ditch everything that is comfortable and familiar and create with what seem to be the wrong tools, in what seems to be the wrong place, and in an unfamiliar, awkward kind of way. Often it is those moments of spontaneous drive that produce the most interesting art and allow us to grow the most as artists. Don’t limit yourself.

SEARCHING FOR MEANING

The whole thing started when I was around 5 years old. I couldn’t stop thinking about what happens after people die, but more importantly, why we are here in the first place. What is the meaning of life? I remember the moment when I realized that the Gods (a.k.a. my parents) did not know the answers to those questions either. They even told me that actually nobody knows for sure. It was the first time I experienced the pain of not knowing. I could not handle it. My little brain was exploding. I was finally able to calm down after that strange voice inside of me appeared whispering that everything is alright and that I shouldn’t think about it too much. I believed the voice for some reason and followed its advice. Of course the big question kept popping up here and there like a software update on my computer, but I kept clicking the “later” button for years. 

Then I turned 13 years old and, I guess due to hormones, just couldn’t ignore it anymore. By that age I was already well aware of the fact that people were selfish. I despised everything and everyone. School was my everyday purgatory. However, strangely enough, I got my first satisfying answer from a school teacher (the only real education I got from that place where I served my sentence for 10 years). It was a literature class and we were supposed to write an essay about the struggles of the main character of some story we had read but instead I produced a short essay about how all people are jerks and I don’t see any reason to continue participating in this bullshit thing called life. My main point was that if there was at least one person on this planet who was truly good then everything would make sense and the world would be worth living in, but it seemed like there wasn’t such a person, and so I felt hopeless. When I got the essay back there was a note from my teacher saying: “And what about you?” This note changed my life because I had never thought about it like this before. Wow, what a revelation! I needed one truly good person to make life worth it and it turns out I could actually be that person to myself! I just needed to meet my own standards of being a decent human being (although believe me, that was quite a challenge). Anyway, that’s how my credo was born: “Be whatever you want your world to be”. So simple and powerful. It gave me a deep sense of peace.

The result of creating your own rules and following them meticulously is that you get true confidence and self respect. And when you have self respect, others have no choice but to follow you because another’s attitude toward you is just a reflection of your attitude toward yourself. You might pretend to be something other than what you actually are, and others might pretend that they believe you because it works well with the lies they are telling themselves but, in reality, it’s not possible to fool anyone. People see through each other really well. Who you are is written on your forehead. Your vibrational frequency says it all. 

So when you stay grounded in your own truth, no one, no matter how powerful or influential they are, has the capacity to overthrow you. Your own integrity shields you from any adversaries, it lifts you up to cloud 7 followed by cloud 9, the forces of nature support you... You get the point.

Having a credo does not mean that you will never do anything that goes against your integrity. Oh, you will do plenty. But it will make you even stronger and wiser because you will know that sometimes you just cannot help it but be hideous. You’ll know it because if you could do better, you would have done it. But you couldn’t and you didn’t and that’s ok. That’s why you become more tolerant of others’ faults, you understand them now. As my favorite meme says: “Though shalt not judge because thou hast fucked up in the past also.”

The meaning of life is different for every single person because that’s the beauty of life. The only thing that matters is that you’re in alignment with your own truth. Don’t let anyone trick you into feeling guilty just because you follow your true desires. At the end of the day, you don’t owe anything to anyone. 

WHY YOU SHOULDN'T WORRY ABOUT SUCCESS

Worrying about success. What a waste of time and energy! Yet we, life noobs, still do it every day. 

Am I ever going to be able to this? Do I have what it takes to accomplish that? What if I am not cut out for it? What if?!

Here’s something you need to know: worrying about success is the number one obstacle to success

Ooo, a writer using a cliché paradox to sound fancy! I'm outta here.

But wait! I have another one for you: the antidote to worrying is action.

Are you for real?

Yeah, I know, we’ve all heard this one before and it’s not what we like to hear. Even when we push laziness aside and decide to commit to action, we are depleted long before we see the results. We spend a week or a month on something, and then we hit a roadblock and suddenly we begin to think that maybe, after all, our dreams are too naive and they have no hold in the big world. That maybe it’s time to default to plan B because this action thing is a scam and success is all about talent and right circumstances…

Excuses, excuses. It's easy to give up under the premise that our work is in vain because we don't have the magic ingredient, we don't have the spice. If only we had some confidence… And how do we get confidence? Action

Oh no, here we go again!

Will you sit down a second?! I am not finished. Let me give you an example that might make you reconsider the effectiveness of action. 

If somebody asks you to pass the salt, you don’t worry about whether or not you can do it. You don’t start having a panic attack and getting all depressed and twitchy thinking "Crap, what if I can’t do it? I haven’t watched any tutorials on salt passing in a really long time." 

No, you don’t think any of that shit. You just say "sure thing, ma dude" and you pass da shaker. Mission accomplished. Boom. Success! 

Yeah I know, passing the salt isn’t writing a symphony, and maybe the latter takes a few years longer to figure out, but why was passing the salt so damn easy? Because moving through space is the most advanced skill you possess, second perhaps only to breathing and blinking. You’ve been working on this skill for *insert age* years every day. In all kinds of different environments you’ve been grabbing, throwing, kicking, hanging, biting, squeezing, punching, scratching… During winter, during summer, on skis, in the ocean, on planes, vertically, horizontally, upside down, under the covers with your roommate’s twin sisters... You get the idea. You got sweaty, and through constant repetition and fine tuning you became a master. Even couch potatoes are pretty good at passing the salt because they’ve gone through the motions enough times. But don’t go challenging them to see who is better at fishing the chips out of the MegaExtraSuperFamily-Sized Pack. They’ll tear you to pieces. They’ve got way more mileage on you. See that state record certificate framed on the wall next to the TV? It's not talent that got them there, but thousands upon thousands of hours of practice. Long story short: Repetition. Practice. Until the skill becomes second nature, becomes subconscious, effortless. When you pass the salt, you don't even think. That's the level you want to reach. 

But I am rambling. So how did we get so successful at moving our bodies? How come we didn't stop mid-way? What’s the secret?

Well, I have this theory and I think it’s gonna blow your mind. Check this out: apart from the sheer number of hours we've spent working on our motor skills, there is another huge contributing factor to our success: we learned to operate our body long before we learned to worry. We saw someone walking and we just tried to copy them. We didn’t get discouraged because they could and we could not. We fell again and again but then we kept on trying.

The complete inability to worry about whether success is attainable - what a perfect recipe for success!

If, on the other hand, we sat around all day long thinking that we cannot walk because the sun isn’t shining at exactly 35 degrees to the 5th ring of Saturn and we are not under the right atmospheric pressure, who knows if we’d ever be able to take a couple of steps? But since most of us didn’t worry and learned to walk, we now pretty much have a historically proven strategy for success: just stop worrying, start doing.

But how do we stop worrying for god’s sake? How do we get off that damn forum on which we’ve spent the past three hours looking for encouraging comments that invalidate our fears and reaffirm that whatever it is that we want to do is indeed possible?

Two things: (1) We need to identify the loopholes in our worrying cycle to destroy it. And (2) we need to build our confidence through action. 

Number one (you’ll like this one): Basically, when it comes to doing something, there are two options. You either do it… Or you don’t. You cannot possibly be starting a company and not. You cannot be practicing the piano and not. So you are either moving forward, or you are not. We get all wimpy and sad when we forget about this, so we have to remember, whatever it takes, that when shit hits the fan, all we need to know is that ACTION IS SUCCESS. Period. Doing is success. Success is doing. If you aren’t doing, you are not successful. If you are doing, success is yours. So if you are crying in the corner because you have no money and all your Instagram followers hate you and are still following you just to leave nasty comments on your pictures, remember, this does not mean failure. As soon as you are doing again, you are instantly successful again. As soon as you are posting again, you are successful again. Success is not a destination. Success is moving forward. So what if you aren’t the greatest yet? As long as you are doing, you’re not not doing, which means that you are successful. Inevitably. (Do I need to repeat the word "successful" a few more times?)

But what if your worst fears are indeed true? What if your worrying is only a confirmation of your lack of abilities necessary to succeed? Ok, you want to break into an industry but it’s cut-throat and your chances are slim? Damn right they are. And it’s scary. But ok, your chances are slim. Are you going to stop? If you are, then what are you doing still reading this? If you are not going to stop then why are you spending so much of your precious time worrying if you are gonna make it or not if you are gonna do it anyway? I am not saying don’t prepare yourself but worrying for the sake of worrying? Skip that. Your choices are few. To do or not to do. Worrying does not fit into this plan. There is just no reason for it. So from now on, from here on out, hereafter and forever and ever, for the eternity of space and time, worrying if you can do or be something is once and for all proclaimed bullshit. We found the loopholes in the mechanism. Worrying is stupid. Bye bye worrying.

Number two. Lack of confidence. Yes, here it is, the catalyst of failure. Often disguised as “the circumstances aren’t right”, “it’s too late”, “I have no talent”, etc., etc. We worry about these things. A lot. The arguments are multifaceted and they go deep and maybe talent is a real thing. Fine, I’ll give you that, BUT! Ever seen those dudes with no legs who skateboard? I don’t mean like sit on a board and roll around in circles, but actually legless dudes shredding in skateparks and landing gnarly tricks, rails and all. Yeah you’d think that if skateboarding required any talent, having legs would be it.

You ain’t got legs? Sorry to hear that, bro. *chuckle*

But those limbless sons of bitches are stubborn, passionate, brave! They know they ain’t got no talent for skateboarding, so they say screw it, and they take the talent that they do have (their determination), and… they reinvent the game. That’s right. They carve out a niche for themselves so they can go all the way to the top. Best legless skater! Woo hoo! They find ways to bypass their missing skills. They REINVENT THE GAME.

Whew. Any more questions?

(Psstt, could you pass the salt, mate?)

PASSIVITY AS MAIN OBSTACLE TO WISH FULFILLMENT

Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

If you constantly feel like you are lacking something in your life, then perhaps you are right and it is time to take a close look at the way you interact with the world. Quite often the problems you are experiencing will largely be the result of passivity on your part. But let me give you an example to show you what exactly it is that I am talking about. 

Say you feel like you are lacking friendships. All these people you know are constantly doing fun things together, and you are by yourself feeling lonely. Well, have you ever considered throwing a party or suggesting a fun place to go to? Why should somebody else be sending you personal invitations, entertaining you, and fulfilling your social needs? 

It is very easy to convince ourselves that things should naturally come to us without any effort on our part. But that’s not how it works. Energy in, energy out. No energy in… no energy out. It is a very logical relationship, yet sometimes we completely forget about it and we might even decline an invitation only to then find ourselves home alone again wondering how that happened.

There are countless other examples, but I first became aware of passivity in my life when on a regular day I found myself wondering why my now ex-girlfriend hadn’t texted me in a while. I wanted to talk to her. I missed her. But she wasn’t texting me! How could this be? That day the silence of my phone put the idea that all my wishes are supposed to materialise on their own was quickly put to rest. 

If you want something to happen in your life you have to make the first move. You cannot snap your fingers, lean back in your chair, and wait for people to start sending you messages, taking care of your needs, learning new skills for you, creating your artwork, defining your goals, ensuring that you have fulfilling relationships, etc. 

Realising the importance of intentional action puts a very immediate spin on Gandhi’s iconic “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Before I used to think that Gandhi was talking about longterm change propagated across the entire planet. And maybe he was, but now I see that he meant so much more and that the rewards of active participation in your life can have immediate effects on your present situation.

It comes as no big surprise that people who get what they want out of their lives actively seek it out, chase it, grab it. Those people pursue their dreams fearlessly. And “fearlessly” is a very important word here because passivity stems from fear. 

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss how to deal with fear, although, perhaps there is an important lesson to be learned from Nike’s “Just do it.”

So next time instead of thinking “Hmm… So-and-so hasn’t written me in a while,” think “Hmm… I haven’t written so-and-so in a while.” And then open up Facebook and send them a message. 

How easy was that?

ARE YOU NUMBING YOUR PAIN OR SOMETHING ELSE?

Photo by Suburban Sleep

You walked. You tripped. You got a boo-boo. You took a pill to numb the pain. 

That’s pretty much what any average person does when there is some kind of friction present in his life. And... since that friction is actually always present in one’s life, the process of numbing oneself becomes an ongoing thing.

At one point in my life, I was really good at it, a so-called professional “numb-er”. I took it seriously and used all my creativity to expand the numbing techniques starting with food and ending with people (using people was definitely not a good idea!). Turns out, what became my full time job of denying all negative feelings, wasn’t the dream job I had hoped for. It was quite the opposite. I would even say it was worse than a nightmare, although it did serve the purpose of clearly differentiating the experience of living vs existing. 

I realized that it’s much better to be in pain and feel alive than to not feel anything at all. If you’re in pain right now then GOOD! You are doing a great job, keep at it. 

I saw this quote on my Facebook feed (sometimes those quotes are indeed helpful) by Brene Brown saying: “We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light”. It hit me like a lightning: “Now I know why pistachio ice cream doesn’t taste as good anymore or swimming in the ocean is rather bothersome than enjoyable. It’s because that numbing technique I invented, proved to be very successful! 

In other words, I realized that the capacity to experience joy is equal to the capacity to handle pain. It’s all the same energy (you), manifesting itself differently according to the circumstances. Like water, when it’s below 0.00 °C it becomes ice, in room temperature it is a liquid and when it’s above 100.00 °C it starts to vaporise. So now whenever I feel discord in my body, emotions or mental activity, instead of thinking what pill I should take, I ask myself: “Hmmm, what is that part of me trying to communicate to me? Should I change the way I live? Should I change the angle of my perception? Should I... What should I change?”

My discoveries did not end there. I also realized that the best way to release any pain is to completely take it in and feel it with every fiber of your being. Once you do it, the pain for some reason disappears or turns into something enjoyable (there is a point to masochism after all) or reveals something about you that you never knew existed. Yes, that thing that has been bothering you for quite some time could be the best thing that ever happened to you because it might just change your life for the better. (I am not talking about the pain that needs immediate medical intervention.) But it totally works on headaches!

A couple of days ago, I woke up with a bad one. It was pretty bearable except for those moments when it randomly started pulsating, as if there were seven dwarfs mining for gold in the left part of my head. I tried several yogic techniques to relieve the pain but nothing worked. I somehow survived that day. The next day though, the headache intensified even more, the dwarfs in my head were, apparently, determined to find diamonds. Deep down I knew, it was probably going to take a few more days until they finished their work, so I was like: “That’s it! I am getting an Advil”. As I was slowly pushing my cart through a supermarket, looking for the pharmacy aisle, it happened! Those nasty dwarfs decided to blow up my brain and suddenly it dawned on me that I don’t practice what I preach. All I needed was to do my thing. So I stopped the cart, focused all my attention on the pain and said: “Bring it on!” It felt as if someone put a nail in my head, then that sensation quickly dissolved. I waited for a little while, thinking: “Is that all you got?”. And when I didn’t receive any response, I resumed my shopping,  thinking: “If you ever come back, I’ll kill ya!” The headache never came back. True story.

QUESTIONING THE "PLUS-SIZED" BEAUTY STANDARD

Several years ago I was a scrawny little kid with very limited athletic ability. Two years ago, after a season of rugby which left me disappointed, I vowed to make myself a better player for the next year. I knew I needed to gain strength and body mass and that the best way to do that was to join the gym. I set a goal to improve myself physically in terms of strength, size, stamina and agility. What started as a means to an end had quickly developed into a passionate pursuit.

As I began going to the gym I became friends with others there like me working towards the same objectives. As we all began to see results I became extremely motivated to keep going and working hard. My workouts went from two a week to six a week within a month. My diet evolved from a diet of sandwiches and sodas to an extremely strict healthy diet consisting almost entirely of steamed vegetables, skinless chicken breasts and plain brown rice. Although difficult at first, the amazing results such as new levels of strength and beautiful muscular development had kept me going.

Although at times I felt drained, lazy and unmotivated, I never quit. I always endured and made no excuses. Even after long days at school I forced myself to go to the gym. Over the course of two years I had made working out a habit. From that I learned about self-discipline and self-motivation. With little to no exterior help in this process, I relied entirely on myself to stay driven to achieve my goal which was no longer to just become a better rugby player. My goal was now to become as physically fit and aesthetic as my genetics would allow. I was now bench pressing 225 pounds instead of the 75 pounds I started with. I was deadlifting 350 pounds instead of the initial 150. There was a constant sense of accomplishment. The discipline and ability to force myself to work that I learned in this process had transferred to many other areas of my life such as my education and other sports.

Unexpectedly, this passion had myriads of other positive physical and mental effects on me besides the ones I initially set out to get. Every day I feel superb, I’m in a good mood, I’m motivated to work and learn. I sleep better, I eat healthier, my attention span is exceptional, and my decision-making is wiser.  

I did become a better rugby player, now one of the best rugby players on my team. But this is not the ultimate accomplishment. I accomplished something greater. I accomplished my goal of becoming a better person, of being able to rely on myself to work hard and try new things. I took control of myself and achieved greatness.

So why am I telling you all this? 

Recently I’ve been enticed by several new campaigns that challenge the standard of beauty and bring awareness to fat-shaming, and encourage people to be comfortable and happy with themselves. Among these we see the “Dove; real beauty” campaign and the trending increase in popularity of “plus-sized models”. As much as I agree with the message in these campaigns encouraging satisfaction with one’s appearance, I feel like this very positive and empowering message has a high risk of being very misunderstood. 

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in the United States in 2015 is at a petrifying 34.9%. This costs taxpayers 187 billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, 2 out of 3 Americans are clinically overweight. To put this into perspective: France has an obesity rate of 11.3%, South Korea is at 4% and Russia is at 25%. Admittedly, a multitude of factors have led to the massive obesity rate in the United States and it is a very complicated social problem. However, the new campaign that is widely recognised by slogans such as “real women have curves” and “everyone is beautiful” is very misleading and could be contributing further to the problem that is obesity.

I agree entirely with the fact that fat-shaming is bad and that we need to encourage people to love themselves no matter what they look like as it prevents further harm such as anorexia, depression and potentially dozens of other risks. But it is ridiculous to say that fat is beautiful and healthy. It is very true that models do not represent the majority of the people in the United States. Excluding some specific industries, most models are very athletic and live an extremely healthy lifestyle to achieve their physique. When your average overweight American looks at these human beings who are far more attractive than them (due to evolution we are attracted to the people with the most favorable healthy characteristics), he or she will be disappointed with his/her appearance. This is normal, healthy, and is ultimately good.

We cannot give people the illusion that the fact that they are overweight or obese is fine. It is not. When people see models who are fitter and more attractive than them, they shouldn’t open up a tub of ice cream and cry about how gross they look in the mirror. They should get themselves together and sign up at their local gym and clean up their diet. If their financial situation does not permit, they can easily spend an hour a day doing body-weight exercises in their local park which also proves to work wonders regarding health and self image. As difficult as it is to begin working out, it is just as difficult to quit once you get hooked. If you manage to get yourself to workout and diet for a month straight, using the motivation of the beautiful people you see in magazines and movies, you will be unable to stop. 

People can work out and can get fit. No matter how unfavorable one’s genetics may be, by eating healthy and exercising, significant improvements can be made. The men and women whose sculpted physiques have become notorious should not be seen as an unrealistic ideal that fuels hatred and disgust towards overweight people. They should be viewed as the ultimate goal. If you workout and diet for long enough you can achieve that look and level of health. This is not to say that everyone should do that. I am advocating a long process of self-improvement, a will to achieve the perfect physique through years of sports and discipline using the best looking people in our society as the example and motivation. 

People should love themselves! However, they should by no means think that their unhealthy lifestyle is sustainable or fair towards everyone else that takes the extra step to take care of themselves and ends up having to pay for someone’s heart transplant after that obese someone has a heart attack at the ripe age of 35. Real women do have curves, toned muscular curves. Everyone is in some way beautiful on the inside but the vast majority most certainly are not on the outside. We cannot tell people that being too fat or too skinny is beautiful. We should not encourage people to blame their own lack of willpower on unrealistic expectations. Everyone can be fit, it just takes a little bit of dedication and soon it becomes natural and easy. These campaigns have to be rephrased to send a clearer message — that you can be happy with yourself no matter how you look, but if you are fat and lazy, then you are unattractive, unhealthy and need to consider adjusting your lifestyle. Adjusting it not for the purpose of looking like the models that you see in magazines, but to have a long happy life, free of the burden that is extra weight.

LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF INSTAGRAM LIKES

Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

I like writing. I like it so much, I even obtained a degree towards it. A part of earning that degree involved workshops, where our writing was shared with our peers and we received feedback.

Here’s a confession: whenever it was my turn to step up to the plate, to step up to the line, to submit a story...I was almost always attempting to predict how my peers would respond. I wanted to present myself in a favorable way. To prove what I can do. To put my strengths on display and conceal every weakness.

But then: is that not what I’m doing here, with this blog post? (Already, I’m considering how some of you will respond, what sort of points and counter-points will be made.)

But then again: is that not what we all do here, in this lived life?

A significant part of my work and professional experiences involve children, the most recent of which were middle school children. 6th, 7th, 8th graders; eleven, twelve, thirteen year-olds. One day, a group of them were discussing the number of followers they had on Instagram. I remarked that I only had around one hundred and sixty.

“Really, Mr. Tsuei? You gotta have, like, at least three hundred!”

Pfft, nah, bro. I ain’t gonna just let any random person follow me.

Perhaps I can see the logic there, however. More followers means more “likes” for your posts.  Yet, what exactly do more likes mean?

I personally am also a user of Facebook (653 friends), Twitter (126 followers), and Tumblr (65 followers). At the time of writing this post, my blog had 22 views.

Thus, my net digital worth must be 206.8.

Yes, you’re correct: that’s just all the numbers averaged together.

Arbitrary? Indeed it is. But, at the end of the day, are not the number of likes we receive on our selfies also arbitrary? And of what import are selfies at any rate? Probably the same as having a high number of followers and friends on social media.

Which is nothing but pride, vanity, hubris, and arrogance.

I won’t sit here in front of my computer hurling fire and brimstone with words. Yet, perhaps I will at myself. Because this is where it all stems from: a puzzling inquiry into my own conceitedness.

So, why pride? Why the need to save face? Maybe, it’s the need for validation?

Here’s a brief shoutout to cnet.com: it’s my current go-to source of news, reviews, and tips for electronics. Yet, on almost every article or review for a smartphone, you can scroll down to the comments section and find the inevitable argumentative monologues that populate all websites.  But here, the soap box arguments are about World War OS.

“Samsung: the next DUMB thing.”

“iOS is SOOO boring!”

“Yeah, you’d pay whatever for anything with an apple for a logo!”

“You must have shares in Samsung. iPhones rule.”

My belief is that most people who post such things must be trolls who are taking advantage of the anonymity that the internet provides. At the very least, that’s my hope.

Yet, it’s apparently a real debate, with real discussions, and people really taking sides. iOS vs Android vs Windows vs Everything Else Out There. People are passionate about what they believe is superior. And, like all other competing consumer products, people will defend their chosen brand to whatever end. So, why is that?

I find myself scrolling through the comments of an iPhone review, searching for those people who are vocal advocates of the phone’s merits—despite its smaller screen, lack of customization, and fixture within the Apple ecosystem. I find myself actively seeking them out. Because I am an iPhone user. And I want validation.

Is that something many people, if not all, hope to find? Validation for our decisions and our actions. Rarely is there anyone to tell us, “That was a good decision, there! All that agonizing, internal debate sure turned out OK!”

When it happens, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, it sucks.

The convenient thing is: validation perfectly complements the desire to impress.

Because, who enjoys being the last picked for the team? To be the odd-one-out, the one not quite good enough, the one that’s merely an unnoticeable afterthought. Almost without realizing, I always want to put out the best version of myself—my best product. I always want to feel like I belong, like I’m wanted. Even when I know I more than belong, the need for reassurance is somehow always present.

And somehow, the need to impress becomes such a vital part of life. Is that not true for everyone else? And I essentially am truly asking, because I’m sure many people genuinely pay no heed to the thoughts of others (not in a bad way). But I’m equally as sure that there are many others who do take heed (probably in a bad way).

So. Validation and pride. Our own choices. Selfies.

In the end, is it about us or is it about others?

Or is it both?

Because inevitably, some people will care. Some people will not be impressed and they will pick us last for the team. (Are they themselves pridefully self-conscious?)

Perhaps this is one of those vicious cycles. But is there a way to spin it into something...better?

If there was anything I’d learned during my quest for my writing degree, it was this: any story, any poem I write does not need to be changed. Despite any criticism, I have no obligation to change any part of it. As long as I believe it’s what it should be, and can adequately explain why, any element can remain exactly as it is.

And that’s OK. Because, when all is said and done, some people will care, and some will not. I think I can live with that.

EXCUSES AS INDICATORS OF GREATNESS

Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

Today I would like to tell you a story about how I took the image of the skater that you see above. That experience taught me a valuable lesson and perhaps you will find it useful as well. 

It was an ordinary day. I was driving home from work. I was tired and eager to get to the comfort of my room where I could finally relax. That’s when I saw the skater practicing his tricks in front of a high school. I was instantly drawn into the scene - the location provided a great colored backdrop, the lighting was dramatic and interesting, and skateboarding offered an opportunity to make a dynamic image full of energy. What an amazing moment. 

But I mean… there wasn’t really a convenient place to park. I’d have to get my camera out of the bag in the trunk. I was kind of in a bad neighborhood. I was tired. After all I’d done enough work for the day, I thought. 

“What if it doesn’t even turn out that great of a shot anyway? Is it worth the hassle? Nah, better to just go home and forget about it. Besides I’ve already driven past the scene. I’ll just have to get it some other time.”

Some other time. That’s when it really clicked. There would never be another opportunity. Each and every moment in life happens only once. Not once every day - once in history. As a photographer I realized that if I didn’t take that photo right then - it’d be gone for good. Sounds obvious, but it really made sense back then. 

I quickly checked my mirrors and turned the car around, accelerating past my excuses that were beginning to scream louder and louder as I sped up. “It’s too late! The guy probably isn’t even there anymore. You blew it! Should’ve taken it the first time around.” But by then my desire to overcome my personal limits for the sake of photography was stronger than any excuse my fear and fatigue could come up with.

I parked my car in the “inconvenient” spot, grabbed my camera and in a minute I was already lying on the ground, snapping photos of the skater, and feeling totally awesome. I was relieved that he was still there and that I was able to beat my excuses. It felt right. 

I shot from several different angles, making sure to capture the decisive moment. After getting a few frames that I really liked I confirmed focus, waved to the skater, and left. The whole thing took no longer than ten minutes. 

Driving home, pumped up and smiling, I realized that something special happened in those ten minutes — I broke through a personal barrier.  

The thing is, oftentimes, we begin to come up with excuses when we sense that we are on the edge of our comfort zone. These excuses are indicators of our limits. And what lie beyond those limits are opportunities for greatness. So instead of seeing excuses as a fence, we should instead see them as little flags indicating that we have a chance to be a part of something amazing and that all we need is a little push. 

In my case that little push was my desire to get the image and my order to my hands to turn the car around despite the voice in my head. Once it was done, there was no way I was going to back down. And now I have this image of the skater hovering over a fakie heel - a once-in-the-history-of-life split-second moment that photography extended indefinitely into the future. To this day this photograph remains one of my favorites. 

So next time you find yourself coming up with excuses, know that you are approaching your limits and then push through them. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet greatness.

PINK SHACKLES OF REALITY

photo by Artem Barinov

photo by Artem Barinov

Have you ever had an experience when, for example, out of nowhere the thought of going to New Zealand pops into your head and then suddenly that same day you meet people from New Zealand? You check your mail and there is a brochure about New Zealand. You turn on the TV and there is a movie that takes place in New Zealand. Have you ever experienced something like that in your life? I am pretty sure you have. This many coincidences are hard not to notice. Even if your mind tries really hard to come up with a perfect explanation for every single serendipity, don’t you feel like there is more to these coincidences than meets the eye? The universe is speaking to us.

The sad thing is that almost everyone is told that they cannot fully grasp this life and the workings of the universe. Even the smartest individuals throughout history like Socrates said: “I know now that I know nothing”. And if that is the case, then what is left for us mere mortals? Not much. So we just give up trying to understand anything. We think to ourselves: “Who am I to question this existence? I am just “little me”, who struggles to pay rent. Never, in a million years, will I solve this puzzle. It’s futile. I am just “little me” and my abilities are limited”. By thinking like that you lock yourself in a prison because there is a correlation between your thoughts and the things that happen in your life. And when you put yourself in that kind of prison you stop actively participating in your life and your fate.

So there you are, locked inside your little prison, with no power whatsoever to make any changes because you have given up. You have handed your power over to your parents, peers, the TV shows you watch... Everything around you begins to dictate what is real, and you have no say in it because you are just “little you”. So you live your small life, not really happy but somewhat comfortable. On some level you know that something is very wrong with living like this but you don’t question it because people around seem to know what’s going on, so it must be how it is. And this blissful ignorance has its own perks. It is as if you are in a Gulag (Soviet Union labor colony) sharing a floor with a dozen of other tortured prisoners but you think to yourself: “Hey, at least, I don’t need to worry about my house getting repossessed!” You’re fed a little piece of bread but you think: “Hey, at least, I don’t have to leave a tip.” You wear shackles but: “Hey, they are pink! My favorite color!” And don’t get me wrong, I am all for being positive and grateful but sometimes it is vital to be brutally honest with yourself because eventually you will be forced to look at reality anyway. And if you don’t create your own reality, then someone else will.

However what is reality? Is there a definite reality for all? Is the reality of a starving child in Africa the most real thing in the world? Or maybe the reality of Paris Hilton’s life is the real thing? Well, it is all real because it all exists. We can not judge from the moral point of view, what is good and what is bad. It just is. There are seven billion people and all have their own realities - some are similar, some are completely different, but equally real. 

As the mystical teacher Dr. Michael Joseph Levry said: “The problem you are having right now is the solution to a much bigger problem you are not aware of.” So no matter what reality you find yourself in, you have to shape it, instead of letting external circumstances determine it. Because what Socrates meant is not that we should give up trying to know things. Instead he said that there are so many things to know that even when we dedicate our whole life to knowledge, we will still have unanswered questions. But that idea never held back Socrates himself from seeking answers. There are plenty of questions for everyone. So instead of mindlessly floating through life, we need to seek knowledge of ourselves, so we can command our destiny. Because it is by being active creators of our own fate that we create the fate of our bigger collective reality. 

So go on and look closely at your life in the present moment... You might find a hidden treasure.

HOW TO BUILD A PORTFOLIO


Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

Blogs and websites yield, for the most part, the same answers to the question “How do I build a photography portfolio?” Shoot the type of work that will appeal to your desired clients, edit your work ruthlessly, establish a style with your work. This is all great advice except it doesn’t really tell you how to actually make the work. For me this has been an ongoing problem. I often find myself thinking “What to shoot? How to do it? Here I am, sitting in my room, itching to make more photographs, but unsure how to make that happen.”

I already know from experience that no amount of Googling, forum-surfing or article-reading will give me the answers that I seek. All that will do is exhaust and frustrate me, leaving me with no new images to show at the end of the day. And with no images there cannot be a portfolio. So, understanding this, I fall back on my own advice that I gave to others in the past: “Making art depends on one thing and one thing only - taking an idea, no matter how vague, and making it into something tangible. Your work has to be done and it has to be finished. This is the only way.” Okay, good advice. Now what? Now we get to work. 

Doing the work is extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, when we don’t know what work needs to be done. Abstract ideas floating around in our minds seldom find a way to manifest in reality unless we guide them diligently to fruition. So the first part of the advice is “…take an idea, no matter how vague…” Ok. An idea. Not many ideas. Not a string of ideas. Just one idea. This is essential. We are not trying to create a lifetime’s worth of work in a day. We are just trying to make one new picture, a decent picture, hopefully. But with all the different ideas bouncing around in our head, it can be strange to have to zero in on just one because we don’t know which to choose. It doesn’t matter. Pull one out of a hat. Save your other great ideas for later. If you haven’t written them down yet - do so, so that you don’t have to worry about forgetting them. Now you can focus on the one you chose.

I had a dream, a very long time ago, in which I was walking up to a futuristic city in ruins. A city that used to be home, but was no longer. In that city I ran into some of my old friends who survived the destruction and were now sitting on piles of debris, discussing how to proceed with their lives. The ruins were beautiful in a morbid, devastating kind of way. Buildings stripped of their exterior walls, broken tiles, glowing neon signs, remnants of peaceful life before the storm. These images stuck with me for years. And now, I am thinking that it is finally time to do something about them. So this is my one idea: photographs depicting a futuristic world post-apocalypse, in which the characters get a chance to build a new life after the collapse of the system. Your idea doesn’t have to come from a dream. It can be anything. And you already have many ideas. Occasionally they pull the strings inside you, begging for your attention. Let them. Feel them. Find your idea.

The second part of the advice is “…and make it into something tangible.” But how? To recreate the scene I saw in my dream would require a crew of 100 people and a budget of a Hollywood blockbuster. No chance. But that doesn’t mean that I have to put this idea away. Instead, I grab a piece of printer paper and write out the elements. I am bad at drawing but I don’t hesitate to throw together a quick sketch because it is for my own use anyway. So… Let’s see. I have no budget, no studio, no set designer, no models. All I have at this point is my idea and my camera. Since I cannot do the full setup I have to simplify. Can I shoot just one character instead of the whole landscape of ruins? Yes. All I need for that is one model, one location, one costume, one makeup artist, enough gear to light one person, and… that’s about it! Much more manageable. And if I can shoot one character, then I can shoot two. And if I can shoot two, then I can shoot a group. And if I can shoot a group… As a matter of fact, starting with just one character is a good idea regardless of the availability of resources. This will serve as the beginning of what can turn into a bigger project. A small team can grow into a bigger team over time. Details will be figured out. And most importantly, photographs will be made, meaning that the idea will no longer exist only in the realm of fantasy. Slowly the individual pictures will inform the larger work, more resources will become accessible, and the vision will begin to shape up. This is how the initial process of elimination, and actually getting to work with available resources, create more opportunities down the road. 

But once you get the ball rolling, the rest of the work is just details. Finding a model, finding a location, figuring out the set up, figuring out the logistics… It’s hard work, confusing work, but “the work has to be done.” Ok, now we are really getting somewhere. Will my pictures look anything like my dream did? Probably not, considering the limitations of the real world and the limitations of skills and resources. So wouldn’t it be better if I waited until I had more skills and more resources to execute the idea? No. Because the work “has to be finished.” In my case, this idea has been incubating for years, and it looks like I will never have the resources to match the dream. But I am not after making an exact copy - I am after making this idea come to life through a photograph before it fades away and vanishes into the black hole of my memory. Turning ideas into reality is the most crucial step of the creative process, and thus it is the most difficult. 

So find your idea. Break down your idea. Get to work. Finish the work. “This is the only way.”

THERE ARE NO ANSWERS


Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

We have, for quite some time now, been trying to disassemble life into its individual components in order to facilitate the never-ending task of studying it. It’s huge, this life of ours, and we have to inspect its elements one by one in order to come closer to comprehending the whole. That’s how we arrived at science. 

The goal of science is to measure with extreme precision the constituents that form the cohesive whole of our physical world. And as a result, science has equipped us with answers that enabled us to walk on the moon, to modify DNA, to postpone death. These are tremendous achievements. It would make sense then, considering the successes we have enjoyed, to apply the same methods of discovery to making sense of our private worlds - internal, intangible and hidden. But hard science, while suitable for rather absolute conclusions about the global state of our affairs, is not as fitting for us on an individual level. While the flow of neurotransmitters between our synapses probably does hold a comprehensive explanation to why we pick tea over coffee, chocolate over salad, compassion over aggression, is distilling our functioning to fixed values practical, and more importantly, is it beneficial to our wellbeing? 

For example, a motorcycle’s functionality can be broken down into its individual components, but what component produces the satisfaction we experience when on a cold evening the engine starts and fills the air with a pleasant rumble that conveys a sense of adventure? Where in the specifications of the vehicle can we find the category listing the values for that particular feeling? There isn’t one. Because the feeling is intangible, boundless, immeasurable. Similarly, our psychological world is too uncertain, too volatile, too unpredictable to be restricted to precise scientific measurement. In fact, the more precise we get, the further away we move from achieving understanding, the further away we move from the truth, the further away we move from adventure.

This is where science comes up short. The place for linear logic is not in our daily internal monologues with ourselves, nor is it in the weary hours of Sunday afternoons as we ready our systems for another forward burst. We need another kind of science, a science that doesn’t strive to answer every question, but on the contrary, a science that thrives in the unknown. Luckily we have just that kind of science and it is called art.

What art teaches us is that in tending to our emotional needs we must abstain from the extreme desire to locate absolutes, to find definite answers. Answers might lead us in the wrong direction. Knowing is not how it works. In fact, if we found out how it works, it could stop working entirely. The spirit thrives in the obscure, in the uncertain space between now and what used to be now just a second ago. It is not possible to anchor ourselves to one state, to find permanent stability, to find endless peace. We are organic, ever-evolving, growing, changing human beings. It is our nature to shift, develop, mature, or get younger. 

We are not fear nor love. We are not order nor chaos. We are not life nor death. We are a little bit of everything all at once. 

FAT. SALT. SUGAR. LIKES.


Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

Why do artists create? They create to contribute something to the world. Contributing something to the world implies an audience. If the work of an artist is never seen, then what’s the point? Luckily, finding an audience today is not very hard. The difficult part is finding the right audience. 

In recent years many people have turned to Instagram as their go-to social networking platform. Creatives, musicians, photographers, athletes, you name it - the platform lets anyone join the circle and play the role of content creator and curator. Instagram’s language is predominantly visual, and while not everyone is a visual artist at heart, it is for those who are that Instagram poses the most significant risks. The reason for that is that visual artists take their visual content seriously, and when it fails to be received as such, as is often the case, numerous problems arise.

The Audience

Although social media makes it easy for artists to share their work worldwide, the material they publish reaches an increasingly uninvolved audience. Bombarded with tons of varied content on a daily basis, the eyes of the viewers have turned indifferent. A quick double-tap here and there and the scrolling continues as the memory of the images viewed moments ago fades promptly into nonexistence. 

The reality is that the viewer doesn’t really care for any particular piece of content - it is the amusing experience of moving through a lot of it that matters. The visual quality of the images plays little significance, as long as the escape-reality that they offer is more exciting than the moment at hand. Instagram is most often used as an escapism and procrastination platform, not an art appreciation platform. People want to connect to a relevant and steady stream of random information that will entertain them. 

It is important to understand that when a viewer decides whether or not to engage with content, the decision is instinctive, socially determined by the relationship of the viewer with the creator of the content, and thus highly subjective. The act of giving a like is important to the viewer, because he wants to speak out, make a statement, contribute an opinion. And while a like is equivalent to a nod of approval, it is by no means educated praise or objective criticism. Think of it as a pat on the back, no more. Likes are more so about the person who gives them, not the one who receives them. 

In addition, the value of any individual like is negligible. With an unlimited amount of likes, one could like as many pictures as he wants, regardless of quality. If you still believe that a like is valuable feedback then consider this: how many viewers remember the pictures they liked yesterday? Few to none. In comparison to buying a piece of art where real value was exchanged and a commitment was made to appreciating the work, likes fall very short. On Instagram people like pictures millions of times a day. The fact that someone liked your photo means almost nothing. 

The Artist

Meanwhile, on the other side, that of the artist who restlessly awaits engagement on a freshly posted image, the picture is quite different. Likes, comments, and followers quickly turn into a complex system of feedback that the artist begins to use to measure the overall success of his work (which he takes seriously). 

What we see here is a dramatic gap between how the same piece of content is perceived by the artist and by the audience. When a member of the audience dispenses a like it means — I like this (rooted in personal preference). The artist thinks, however, that that same like means — I like this (praise proportional to the quality of the piece). The artist then begins to think that people care, that his work is great, that likes are valuable. But this gap of perception is wide and unbridgeable. 

This is easily proven by a comparison between a well-executed photograph with a concept, and, say, a photo of a cute animal doing something amusing. Which one gets more likes? The animal. Of course things are much more complex than that, but the artist doesn’t always understand that Instagram is not about art, and that it is most definitely not about his art. The artist thinks that his content is under-appreciated, that he doesn’t spread it far enough, that he is misunderstood. In reality he is the one misunderstanding — the audience simply doesn’t care. 

But while likes are ineffective at accurately indicating the value of any particular piece of work, they quickly become vital to the artist for they begin to comprise a basic reward system that keeps the artist moving forward. Well, at least forward is the desirable direction. Unfortunately that isn’t always the way things are headed. Subconsciously the artist might establish a link between the amount of positive engagement he receives and his own self-worth. Content is very personal and it makes sense that such a link eventually emerges, but if not kept an eye on it may lead to serious consequences. Likes, after all, are little ego strokes, and with approval being so important in today’s world where the self-worth of any individual is daily belittled by the perfected media, they soon become to the artist the numbers that measure his value as a human being. The “misunderstood” artist is now hungry for approval. He can damn well do better than some random cat. Or at least so he thinks. And just like so the artist enters the game of who gets more likes thus handing the power to validate his self-worth over to the audience (that doesn’t care). Any reassurance the artist receives is pleasant. And when our pleasure chemistry is repeatedly and systematically involved then there is potential for dependence and abuse around the corner. 

Instagram becomes another one of those invisible modern drugs. We are addicted to sugar, we are addicted to information, we are addicted to likes. Instagram is the middleman, we are the junkies, our work is the currency, and likes are the stuff we crave. People go out of their way, exchange likes for likes, follow to be followed, and sell snippets of their lives every day to maintain the fleeting high. Our tolerance builds, our scrolling speed increases, and our appreciation of the content diminishes. Now this is starting to sound like a full-blown addiction -- not so #instagood.

Quantity and Subject Matter

If external reassurance of self-worth becomes of such great importance to the artist, then the artist will do anything to make sure the likes continue rolling in. An increase in likes can be accomplished in many ways and, strangely, improving the quality of the content is rarely the method artists fall back on. Instead they might begin to be more active on the platform, use more hashtags, interact more vigorously with others and, most commonly, post more content. The rate with which the audience consumes content is fast, so the artist must keep up in order to remain visible and to stay relevant. This encourages creation of content for the sake of sharing, not for the sake of quality. More content equals more reach, more engagement, more total likes, more attention. But more content is rarely more good content. Expert photographers say that if you make one great picture a year it is a good year. Today people churn out “great” pictures on a daily basis. It shows that the quality standard is lower than ever. Funnily, this in turn gives the audience less of a reason to genuinely like the content because, well, the content is becoming shit. But because engagement is essential to staying alive on social media the users continue to dispense likes to now inferior content, thus feeding back into the growing chain reaction. As a result the work of the artist remains mediocre, while engagement and likes increase in number due to the increasing spread of the artist’s profile, tricking the artist into thinking that he is on the right track and that his work is improving. Artists lose sight of their work and where it’s headed and begin to view the sharing aspect as more significant than the work itself. Basically, what hashtag to use begins to precede the why. Success begins to be measured in likes, not in contributed meaning, thus diminishing the value of the platform, the value of its individual users and the value of their content.

Platform Rules

Another strategy the artist might implement to receive more recognition and establish a stronger reputation on the platform is tailoring his content to the taste and the expectations of the audience. Soon the unaware artist’s vision will plummet to a low plateau where it will remain, held firmly in place by the false sense of security associated with being accepted into the platform’s conservative social system. 

Why did I call the platform conservative? Well, because any platform has its own set of written and unwritten rules and expectations. Content or behavior that do not fall within the range of platform-normalcy are quickly shunned in order to be eliminated. 

Let me give you an example of a recent Instagram experiment that I conducted. 

Just out of curiosity, one day I decided to post content that would not only go against normal platform behavior, but that would straight up attack the lives of individual members of the audience. Instead of posting photos of something cute or beautiful, I posted short snippets of text that put under fire the values as well as the daily habits of various social groups. 

As you can see, this isn’t uplifting kind of stuff, and I expected it to be unwelcome on the platform, but I didn’t expect it to have such a short run. Let me tell you how Instagram organically eliminated my content from its world. 

Along with the pictures shown above, I posted 10-15 most popular hashtags like #instagood, #love, #fun, etc. Those are the hashtags that are used the most often on the platform. On my regular content, with more specific hashtags I get on average anywhere from 10-40 likes. You would think that several pieces of content tagged with a high number of most popular hashtags would at least get the same amount of engagement, if not more. But here’s the interesting part — the content got virtually no engagement. 

So then I decided that I would evaluate the success of my experiment based on how much negative feedback and how many unfollows I get. I got three unfollows, which left me unsatisfied. After thinking for a while about this, such response now makes sense. On social media, engagement, even negative engagement, is better than no engagement. Backlashes indicate that the message hit the target, unfollows indicate that anger was stirred. But none of that happened as a result of my content. Maybe my little pictures sucked and simply failed to irritate the audience, however, considering the above-stated observations about the audience’s reason for being on Instagram, I am inclined to believe, simply, that nobody cared. My pictures were quietly left alone to rot in the corner. The process of elimination is simple - avoid any interaction with the content in question and let it slowly die a natural social media death. 

Several days later, I had to show my Instagram to a potential client, so I ended up removing the pictures. Business is business, and this is another hidden censorship hurdle that will prevent you from saying what you want. Look at how quickly Instagram murdered my artistic vision and dragged it off stage. I am the only one who still remembers those pictures. The rest of Instagram moved on and continued to not care.

Now those pictures of mine - I still stand by them. After all, I am just artistically expressing things that irritate me. Art does that all the time, but often less directly. Sometimes truths and criticisms need to be implanted into things like art or literature in order to be “socially acceptable”. Tell it straight and you might regret opening your mouth, but package it right and they will chew it up.

In any case, to continue receiving approval and to maintain his online reputation, the artist may unknowingly begin to tailor his content to match the taste and the expectations of the audience. His experimentation will subdue because creating anything that hasn’t been proven to work might mean failure, misunderstanding, and lost followers. And while perhaps the public reputation of the artist is somewhat safe in this arrangement, the vision of the artist is at serious risk. Eventually the artist’s creativity will be so stifled by the parameters of the platform that any novel ideas will be reduced to their less dangerous and more acceptable forms, which is detrimental to art. 

A Different Approach

The above arguments arose out of my misunderstanding that Instagram could be used as a reliable feedback tool for my work and as a sufficient creative outlet. However, as I came to realize after some time using it, Instagram isn’t an art appreciation platform - it is a social and marketing platform. This is an important difference to understand. Instagram is a fun sharing tool that aims to entertain and amuse its users within the boundaries of its platform-specific rules and preferences. It is not geared towards long-term appreciation of any individual piece of content, and it organically eliminates anything that threatens to perturb the easy-going, mobile-accessible getaway it provides. 

If the goal is to share meaningful, though-provoking content that is memorable, and to receive valuable feedback, another platform might be considered. Feedback is irrelevant on Instagram because everybody has an unlimited capacity to like and comment. If you have unlimited likes to give, then individual likes have no value. To make them more valuable, the number of likes and comments a user may dispense would have to be limited to, say, five a month. This way the user would be cautious with what to give his likes to. Only the best works would be encouraged with a high quantity of likes. Similar restrictions would apply to the content creators. If you could post only one image a month, how would the quality of your work change? Out of thirty pictures you would have posted otherwise, you would now only post the best one out of thirty. A thirty-fold increase in quality. Not bad, don’t you think?

But if every user could only post one image a month, then there would be no updated feed to visit daily, right? Yes, and that would be a good thing. Every day the user could launch the app and come back to the same images and occasionally new ones. Now the user would have a much longer period of time to appreciate the content. He would actually spend some time with the pictures, getting a chance to remember them, to find multiple dimensions and meanings within them. He would see them at different times of day, at different places, with different people, in different states of mind. This kind of platform would encourage long-term appreciation of art and get people to really know each other’s work. This is the platform that I will be looking forward to in the future. 

Think About What You Contribute

Maybe in today’s world getting a split second of someone’s attention is a great achievement but I think we are doing ourselves a disservice by accepting that this is all the attention our work deserves. Good work asks many questions. What am I trying to say? Why am I saying it? Did I get the viewer thinking? Did I contribute something meaningful and valuable to the world? Did I educate someone? Did I get a new friend? Basically, what did my work accomplish? Such questions cannot be asked, let alone answered in the fraction of a second of attention that content gets today. And these questions need to be asked. 

In this month’s interview I asked photographer Alveraz Ricardez why there seem to be no legendary photographers these days. Why is there so much mediocre work out there? Why do so few images make us feel anything? I think that the reason is because in the past people were committed to their work. They did it for the sake of doing it with the intention to explore the medium, test its limits, discover its power. They didn’t share their work right away and constantly. They didn’t receive unreliable feedback. It was just them and their work, which they questioned and from which they demanded answers.

None of this is to say that the work of artists who post to Instagram is bad. Not at all. There is amazing stuff out there. I sincerely hope that you do not limit sharing your work to Instagram and social media alone. Find a good place for your good work. 

If we revisit the first sentence of this article we will see the question that started this entire discussion: why do artists create? And the answer was: they create to contribute something to the world. I hope that this article gets you thinking and inspires you to contribute to our already oversaturated world something more meaningful and long-lasting than a string of mediocre content produced carelessly for the audience that doesn’t really care. 

Thanks for reading.


ON PASSION


Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

Passion. This vague term for countless years has been the cause of great successes and great torment. Everybody talks about passion, everybody wants it, but does anybody actually have first-hand knowledge of it? What is passion? Can it be cultivated or is it inherited? And is it necessary? Let’s break it down.

The main issue with any and all discussions about passion, is the word itself - “passion”. It is a kind of two-edged sword. If passion is something that you have or think that you have then the word takes on a welcome meaning of having successfully found an evergreen oasis in the desert of life. If, however, passion is something that you lack then any talk about passion will cause you great anxiety, making you turn yourself inside out looking for that secret ingredient that supposedly infuses life with meaning.

But before you do that terrible thing, let me just say that everybody has passion. The problem is not in you, but in the way we think about passion. To avoid any further confusion, let’s just do one simple thing that will transform the way we think about our life forever - let’s lose the word “passion” and use instead the word “curiosity”.

See, curiosity is something tangible. Earlier today you Googled something that you were curious about. When was the last time you remember acting out of passion? I don’t know either. The thing is, passion is a fuzzy term. Not only is it vague and open to interpretation, guaranteeing that every person will have a slightly different concept of it, but it is also overinflated and likened to a dark-room, I-haven’t-slept-in-three-days obsession, implying that if you are not completely crazy about something then your life must be boring and meaningless. So what do we ordinary people have left then? Well, we have curiosity.

Anything that we do voluntarily, anything that we read about or study or do by choice is the foundation of our passion. Upon this foundation we build, develop, and sculpt something abstract that eventually takes form, falls apart, then goes back up again. We direct it, shape it, try to understand it. That thing, whatever it is, will one day become everything that we are, and only then will we be able to look back at our efforts and retrospectively acknowledge passion by its proper name. And until then, we must stay curious. For if throughout life we maintain curiosity, then finding passion is not just likely -- it is inevitable.


ON PHOTOGRAPHY


Photo by Artem Barinov

Photo by Artem Barinov

Our world is vast, suspended in a state of constant change as it spins. As human beings we have the beautiful gifts of consciousness and cognition which we can use to explore this world. It is a journey we all want to remember because to us it is meaningful. Luckily, somewhere along this journey we discovered photography - a tool to document our paradoxically insignificant yet incomprehensibly important existence.

The essence of photography, like the essence of life, is to create order out of disorder.

The world is filled with color, shapes, motion, and it shifts in a wild chaotic dance. Events unfold at the speed of light, and because they happen so fast it’s like they don’t occur at all. Their lifespan depends on the capacity of our memory. But photography changes everything. An exposure freezes a moment that otherwise might fail to come into prolonged existence. Unacknowledged, it would be hopelessly lost in the complex fractal of time. But photography gives life to that which isn’t supposed to live. It validates split seconds. It shapes reality. It reveals and empowers individual building blocks of experience.

Photography has the power to influence, to persuade, to change, to provide hope, to reassure, to provoke, to convince. It can hurt, it can heal. It resides between the churning stream of consciousness and obsessive concentration. It extends the boundaries of time.

A camera is like a gun, but in the right hands it doesn’t kill -- it gives life. Photography celebrates life and encourages compassion. 

Photography is a path to self-understanding. Photography taught me that in order to exist I must not be afraid of myself and of the space that I occupy in this world.